An introvert in the kitchen


By Magdalena MacinskaIllustration by Akiko Kato

The kitchen is home to an introvert like me. Perhaps because of the nature of cooking---as much as it can be a solitary, contemplative act---it connects me to the people I am cooking for.  I feel excitement and anticipation as I wonder if my family will enjoy this new recipe and the relief that my cake will provide a safe and pleasant conversation topic at a party.

No words are needed in the kitchen. The bubbling sound of the water boiling, the rhythmic chopping of vegetables tells me that I am in a process that has a purpose and yet is beautiful in itself. If I want to, I can play in my mind the images of the dish I am making, or I can simply meditate on the texture of the slippery dough and breathe in the scents of herbs.

We used to have a big kitchen where, during the holiday season, the whole family would gather to prepare food for the festivities. Everyone was working on their own dish, at their own paces. I never felt as cozy and relaxed with my family as in those moments. I would listen to the happy hustle and bustle and feel part of something big.

Things changed after I lost my mother. I have a much smaller kitchen now.  Even though I could still cook together with my siblings, I usually do it alone, and not just because of the size of the kitchen. Cooking has become about being in control, about coping with the fact that the person that used to whisper recipes in my ear is no longer there and I have to find my place in this new constellation. Sometimes it even turns into a quiet competition---the way introverts compete, with actions not words.  I remember  how one Christmas my ambition drove me to come up with a roasted goose for dinner, which meant figuring how the damn bird would defrost when it didn’t fit into the sink and how to sew the wings to the body before putting it into the oven, as the recipe said.

The kitchen is also the place where I learn to match expectations with reality. I might spend hours rummaging in the refrigerator or looking through cookbooks for a perfect recipe, but once the pot is on, once the doors of the oven close, I am with what there is here and now. Proportions will go crazy, tastes will get confused and dough won’t grow. In the end, the food becomes what I manage to make of it that day, not what the name says.

And then there are those moments when I open the cupboard and the comforting scents of tea and coffee lure me into the world of small pleasures. It is time to sit down, to stare outside the window and just be. Or better yet, call someone to have a cuppa with me, an introvert’s way of saying that she needs to give and feel some human warmth. . .